Sunday, July 31, 2011

The e-Gauntlet Has Been Thrown!

May of 2010 was a busy month to say the least. Amid the fury of various exercises, security missions, and training ranges was the particularly memorable experience of Lt Navel Lint, who has forever sullied my opinion of Navy 03s. The very next week I was in the NEX when out of the corner of my eye I noticed another Navy Lt sashay up and down the DVD aisle. As he turned my way I feigned interest in some random selection of movies. His pace slowed when he fixed his big doe eyes on me in slack jawed fascination. Clenching my teeth I turned to glare in his direction and render the proper greeting of the day. With an anxious shift of his feet he bolted to through electronics towards women’s lingerie before I could even open my mouth.

Later, I visited some of my Marines selling unit t-shirts and coins in the passageway downstairs. I asked the men how business was going and they told me about another Navy 03 they had just fleeced. Seems he wanted a double XL for a night shirt to sleep in and they convinced him to buy a coin too. Well done lads.

Over a year later and I saw this outrageous article.  After being stationed elsewhere, our Naval Officer from the NEX has decided to electronically confront America’s 1stSgt with his grievances/man crush.

Am I the only one who longs for the good old days when Marines and Sailors simply fought in bars?

Whichever side you favor, check out NavyOne's blog at The Mellow Jihadi.

Semper Fidelis!
America's 1stSgt

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Thoughts On Sexual Assault Prevention

Previously, I shared an e-mail I sent to Dr. Alan Berkowitz concering his talk at a sexual assault prevention symposium for leaders here at NSA Bahrain. I was delighted when he responded to me the very next day:

Dear 1st Sgt,

Thank you VERY much for taking the time to share your thoughts and reflections about my brief.  Your comments are very valuable and I will take them into consideration for my future talks.

I want to refer to one comment you made at the end of your note in framing my answer.

You said:

Our values are not new to us institutionally but may have never been articulated in the minds of our troops.

I think that this comment is key.  "Marine Culture" from the point of view of desired behavior, values and expected leadership qualities, does not need to be changed.  It is an admirable statement of ideas that we expect our Marines to live up to and uphold.  However, as you know, in life there is often a gap between ideals and reality and it is the "culture of the reality" that I believe needs changing, not the culture of the ideals.  I will be more careful in the future to clarify this because you are not the first Marine who has objected to my talking about "changing the culture of the Marine Corps."  So, your point is well-taken and I will revise my language a bit to avoid this misunderstanding.

Another aspect of the issue that I will point out is something that I discussed in my brief - that while almost all Marines (and other service members) believe in and agree with their service's core values, there may be a perception that others don't agree and these values may then not be acted on. I think that if every Marine had a leader like you who is clear and strong about expected behavior then we would have less of a problem, but as you know, the ideal-reality gap is also true for some leaders.

I will make use of the leadership traits and principles in future talks, thank you.

FYI, I am attaching a handout that I developed for a talk for the Marine Corps for Sergeant's Major that you might find interesting.

Let me know if you have additional thoughts or comments. And, if we are ever again in the same place at the same time please make sure that we get a chance to say hello and meet in person. (you are also welcome to call me Alan).

And thank you for your service.

I will end with "Semper Fidelis " with the belief that what we are "always faithful" is not in need of change, but rather our faithfulness to it.

All the best

Alan Berkowitz

Alan Berkowitz, Ph.D.
HQE Prevention Advisor
Department of the Navy
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (DON SAPRO)

As for the attached handout he mentions above:

Recommendations for Sergeant’s Major
From: USMC Senior SNCO Sexual Assault Prevention and Family Support Conference
Alan Berkowitz, Ph.D. – Subject Matter Expert and Speaker
January 22, 2010

What you can do to create a climate in your command that discourages sexual assault and supports efforts to end it?

1. Reinforce the Positive. What good things are already happening in your unit? How often have men intervened to prevent an assault? Do victims have the courage to come forward and report misbehavior? Seek out and reinforce the positive, and talk about it.

2. Believe victims. Your responsibility is to believe in the truth of a report until you have been given specific evidence that it is an actual false report. Remember that false reports account for approximately 5% of all reports. It is important that you foster a climate that believes in and supports victims, and that you speak out against and contradict all victim-blaming.

3. Understand men’s “false fear of false accusation.” Most accusations are considered to be false when in fact they are not. Thus, men have a “false fear” of being accused unjustly. Remember that someone can believe that they are being falsely accused when in fact they did not have consent.

4. Hold bystanders accountable. In every incident there are bystanders. Are they held accountable for their non-action? Create a climate in which bystanders are expected to intervene in some way and support and appreciate bystanders who act.

5. Seek out and hear victim stories. One of the best ways to understand the issue of sexual assault is to hear victim stories. Create trusting relationships and appropriate confidentiality so that victims can have the opportunity to tell you their stories.

6. Support and reinforce those working on this issue. SARC’s, VA’s and others who work on this issue are often stigmatized. In your role you can support and empower them and let others know that you value their contribution to the USMC.

7. Address the larger culture that supports assaults. Talk about pornography, sexual harassment, homophobia, seeing women as less than equal or as objects, negative attitudes towards foreign civilians, lax command culture, and other attitudes and behaviors that foster a culture that is tolerant of assault. Express your disapproval and set high expectations for what is means to be a Marine who is committed to ending sexual assault in the USMC.

Semper Fidelis,

America’s 1stSgt

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dakota Meyer USMC

By now you may have heard the news that Dakota Meyer will be the first living Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor since Vietnam.

Meyer was a sniper in my company back in 3/3 before he went to Afghanistan and it is my distinct pleasure to say I was his 1stSgt. As excited as many of us are for him to be recognized for his actions, I can't help but think what a somber reminder this is for him and everyone associated with events that day in Ganjal.

Medical personnel of the 759th Forward Surgical Team are among those intimately familiar with Ganjal. For them the battle was a mass casualty event they will not soon forget. Members of the FST worked themselves into blood soaked exhaustion struggling to save lives. Despite their best efforts, there weren't many positive outcomes that day.

The surgical team shoes after Ganjal. The shoes have just been power washed because their feet were soaked in blood. Photo Courtesy: Kanani Fong/Kitchen Dispatch Blog

 Meyer doesn't consider his actions heroic and I imagine he feels unworthy of this recognition. That seems to be a trend among men of his type. I will respectfully disagree with his self assessment. On a day when everything went to hell many men were weighed and measured; when it mattered Dakota Meyer was not found wanting.

Valor: strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness.

Honor:  a showing of merited respect; a person of superior standing; one whose worth brings respect.

Knowing his character and worth, I think Meyer would throw his accolades into the sea and low crawl through broken glass if he thought it would bring just one of his guys back. I imagine the 759th would be right behind him.

Semper Fidelis
America's 1stSgt

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lest we forget...

A year ago today Sgt Joe Wrightsman sacrificed his life in an effort to save someone else. Take a moment to read over the posts from last year and reflect. When you despair because the world is going to hell in a hand basket remember, America still breeds men of valor.

Semper Fi Wrightsman, it was a privilege to have served with you.

America's 1stSgt

Monday, July 11, 2011

Your 1stSgt hates...


Long time readers will remember my post about health assessments. I have even more ill will toward surveys and polls. Not only do they provide questionable data but the numbers can be configured to come up with nearly any outcome you likePenn & Teller speak more profoundly on the subject here I’m not always on board with ol’ Penn & Teller but in this instance we are in agreement. There is a great line in the second video where pollster Frank Luntz states the key to survey research is to ask a question in such a way as to get the right answer. So who decides what the right answer is? It just so happens I have an opinion.

The other day we had to take another safety survey. Surveys are particularly handy in finding out how many wise ass Marines you have in your unit. In 3/3 we had a command climate survey in which a Marine noted his 1stSgt could lift 300lbs with his teeth. Although this amused us it’s simply false. Unless he meant 300lbs of brownies, I could totally do that. It also proves anyone can make any kind of wild accusation during a blind survey.

Every survey begins by assuring us: “Responses cannot be tied to the respondent. Your responses are anonymous. Your responses are separated from your personal information (e.g., rank, gender, etc) so that your CO cannot tie the two together.” It doesn’t say that no one else will be able to connect the dots though. Being the only single, over 30, Marine 1stSgt on the island probably narrows down which comments belong to me.

Despite my misgivings at this reassurance I felt compelled to answer all the questions as accurately and honestly as I could.

After divulging all your personal information the survey asks: “Have you received Drinking and Driving training after return from deployment?” As I have a tendency to take these kinds of surveys as loudly as I can, I immediately bellowed: “No, I was able to figure it out all by myself!” I mean really, I probably spend more time talking to Marines about the idiocy associated with alcohol abuse more than any single subject.

Moving on I was able to get into the real meat of the questionnaire. These comprised of statements followed by five choices ranging from Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, and Strongly Agree. I often wonder why we get five choices instead of two: Yes and No. We live in a world where we actively create grey areas so we can confuse each other more. Heaven forbid we searched for simple black and white answers.

My actual comments on the survey are in italics. So here we go!

My supervisor assists me in reducing risks associated with off-duty and recreational activities.

Strongly Agree. I mean, he totally reminds me to look both ways before I cross the street going home. Of course, in my case my immediate supervisor is the company commander. He is also the president of our unit motorcycle club so I think my answer is legit.

My supervisor honestly cares about my safety when I am off duty.

Strongly Agree. Not only would he be pissed if he had to deal with everything by himself if I were hurt, he actually gives a rats ass what his Marines are up to off duty. This leads us to the next question.

My supervisor knows which subordinates are involved in high-risk off-duty and recreational activities.

On this one I merely put Agree. Under each question is a space to add comments so I did: I would like to think we know what everyone is up to but there is always that one who will surprise you. I would like to think we know what everyone is up to but there is always that one who will surprise you.

My command's Off-duty and Recreational Activity Program is effective at helping me reduce personal injury.

Strongly Agree. Comments: Our Off-Duty and Recreational Activity Program is commonly known as strong NCO Leadership.

My command periodically briefs me on off-duty and recreational activity safety risks.

Strongly Agree. Comments: This is referred to as the Leadership Principle: Keep Your Marines Informed.

As a side note, I am more interested in informing Marines of off-duty and recreational activities actually available to them. Inevitably, a 1stSgt will walk through the barracks on the weekend and will find Marines with cases of beer stacked twelve high despondently playing video games. The sun will be setting over the most beautiful tropical paradises in the world and a Marine will complain there is nothing to do. So they get drunk and drive cars 130mph around hair pin turns. I try and let them know there are alternative activities which will not necessarily end in horrific, fiery, death.

Safety personnel in my command assist me in reducing risks associated with off-duty and recreational activities.

Strongly Disagree. Comments: NCOs in my command assist in reducing risks associated with off-duty recreational activity.

Safety stand downs are effective at helping me reduce off-duty and recreational activity mishaps/injuries.

Strongly Disagree. Comments: Concerned, engaged, proactive leaders are effective at helping me reduce off –duty and recreational activity mishaps/injuries.

Starting to see a trend with my answers yet?

Missing work due to an off-duty/recreational activity injury would adversely affect my command's ability to accomplish its mission.

Neutral. Comments: I would like to think I make a significant impact but I suspect if I weren’t around the Marines would manage without me.

I am comfortable telling peers when they are behaving unsafely (e.g., endangering themselves or others).

Strongly Agree. Comments: This is called Peer Leadership. It is something I stress to all my Marines.

After answering a battery of questions about how often I participate in every conceivable fun activity on earth, the survey came to the open ended questions. My favorite!

The most significant high-risk activity I perform off duty is:

Crossing the street in Middle East traffic is nearly as hazardous as combat. No joke.
Anyone who has spent any time as a pedestrian in this part of the world would agree. Life is cheap and you better get out of the way quick.

The most significant action I could take to reduce the probability of an accident/injury associated with off-duty and recreational activities would be:

Vigilance and using sound judgment.
I suspect pollsters hate answers like that as it doesn’t involve more classroom time, rosters, or hiring more subject matter experts to reap the benefits of their cottage industry of choice.

What other measures could my command implement to reduce off-duty and recreational activity incidents/mishaps?

Adhere to time proven leadership principles like: Develop A Sense Of Responsibility Among Subordinates. Additional programs, policies, stand downs, etc., will never replace training Marines to take individual responsibility for their actions and for their peers.

It is my professional opinion that personal accountability and engaged leadership is the cure to nearly every issue we have in the military. I suppose it irks some that I think brilliant new programs aren’t the right answer. We’ve had the right answer all along. Leaders just need to get off their hind parts and execute the fundamentals of their trade.

Semper Fi!
America’s 1stSgt

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day Shots

FAST had a little Company function this holiday. Thought I'd share some quick photos.

The sand volley ball (the only way to play the game) was fierce with competition. Face plants in the sand were a common theme.

Classic Batman sound effects are always in order: KA-BLAM!


Really, what would Independence Day be without sumo!

Clash of the titans! POW!

[Insert obligatory dinosaur noises here.]

These kind of things tend to degenerate rather quickly.

Hope everybody had a great Independence Day!

Semper Fidelis!
America's 1stSgt